85th IFLA General Conference & Assembly, Athens

My IFLA World Congress Experience #WLIC2019

Jane Cowell


The theme of the IFLA WLIC 2019 was Libraries: Dialogue for Change inviting libraries globally to discuss the role they play in local communities to promote change. Libraries are open, free, democratic and inclusive and can play an increasingly important role as mediators between factional community groups and promoters of knowledge and truth. IFLA has an active membership of over 1400 members (Library Associations across the world) with well established relationships with the United Nations and other International organisations to advance the cause of libraries the world over.

The large Vendor Exhibition Hall is another key attraction for librarians globally and the Exhibition Opening event on Sunday 25th August was a way to meet the vendors in a relaxed social setting.

This year I was also attending as a new member of the IFLA Standing Committee for Public Libraries, and this was definitely a learning experience for me. After two formal meetings with the Committee, and helping to faciliate a workshop for public librarians regarding key issues facing public libraries I got to know fellow Committee members a little better. I also got the gig for the @IFLA_PLS twitter account so please give us a follow if you are in the twittersphere. I also attended the business meeting for the Asia and Oceania section to hear the developments that are happening in our region and will be following their stragic actions with interest.

Oodi Library, Helsinki Finland. Public Library of the Year 2019

If you have not been to a Congress before it is a mixture of IFLA Business meetings and presentations from each of the Standing Committees who are invited to develop parts of the Congress program. You can get a sense of the Congress from the 11 sessions that were live streamed and recorded. The presentations that attracted me were developed by:

  1. Standing Committee for Management and Marketing Section to hear from the shortlisted Marketing Award winners. So many good ideas for marketing and it was great to see an Australian, and a New Zealand Library service featured in this session.
  2. Systematic Public Library of the Year Award session, jointly presented by the Public Libraries, Library Buildings and Equipment, and Metropolitan Library Standing Committees — with the winner being Oodi Library, Helsinki Finland. Shortlisted were LocHal, Tilling Denmark, Turanga Library, Christchurch New Zealand and Green Square Library, Sydney Australia. This was a great session and the presentations from all four shortlisted libraries were a generous sharing of each libraries development and design journeys.
  3. IFLA strategy sessions / President-Elect strategy session. Some of these were live- streamed so that those who could not attend in Athens could be involved. The IFLA Global Vision Library ideas store was launched with thousands of ideas shared by librarians the world over to inspire, share & implement at your library. The new IFLA Strategy 2019–2024 was also launched and the Vision : A strong and united library field powering literate, informed and participative societies resonated with every librarian at the Congress
  4. National Libraries section presentations were of interest as they explore a way to engage audiences with their collections and physical libraries. There is much we can learn from their approaches while recognising that their collections and programs are quite different to local public libraries.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre & National Library

The Cultural Evening was held at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre housing the National Library of Greece, the Greek National Opera and features a beautiful Mediterranean garden with 360-degree views of the sea to the west, the Acropolis to the east as well as the Agora and the Central Plaza where the event was held. The National Library was open, and I toured the library and went on the viewing platform for the gorgeous views of the city.

The Closing session included the handover to the new IFLA President, Christine MacKenzie with her new theme of Lets Work Together. I also attended the event to congratulate Christine for this achievement, held at the Australian Embassy and hosted by ALIA, sponsored by James Bennett on Wednesday 28th August evening. It is so exciting to see Australian Librarians so involved on the International Library stage.

New IFLA President Christine MacKenzie & Past President Gloria Pérez-Salmerón

My four takeaways for my own library professional development from the Congress are:

Interesting partnership models are being used to deliver more. The new LocHal Library in Tilling, Denmark has been built and developed as a colocation, with extended hours delivered through the partnership. The library opens at 8.30am in the morning with no library staff, the partners open, and then the library staffs the building from 12pm — 9pm. For any new Libraries that are to be developed within my own library service exploring co-locations and key partners to operate within any new building could expand the level of services offered.

LocHal, Tilling Denmark Shortlisted for 2019 Public Library of the Year

Social Media marketing ideas are essential to reach people & connect them to the library. The Invercargill City Library, New Zealand, marketing team have developed a significant global social media following with their quirky social media posts. Their Marketing Coordinator showed how their team works together to hone ideas and explore new tools, such as video, to connect with their audiences. They also use humour to connect with their community. For my own library, ensuring that library staff have the permission and the skills to explore different social media engagement opportunities is something we are implementing.

Outcome measurement is key. Libraries worldwide are investigating ways to measure the impact of what they do. Not just the volume measurements of how busy they are. This is not easy, and I will be keeping abreast of developments in this area. This is important for the library advocacy campaign Libraries Change Lives as well as for my own Library service to provide proof that the library does make a positive difference in the community.

Comfortable shoes! Yes it is essential to take comfortable shoes to a Congress as the weather in Athens was very hot and I did have to go out and buy more suitable sandals for the hot weather and hot pavements! My business high heels just did not work for Athens.

Overall, the Congress provided many valuable opportunities to meet passionate librarians from all over the world and discover key projects that can advance my own library practices. Thanks to all the librarians who reached out to say hello and shared their library stories with me. For more on the official IFLA component of the Congress you can read the official blog here with more links and key information. The 2020 World Library Information Congress will be held in Dublin and I hope to see you there!



Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics